Troubling questions, media list big fails as Kenya rejects college massacre ‘slow response’ criticism
KENYANS prayed for unity Sunday at the start of three days of national mourning for the 148 people murdered in a university massacre by Somali Islamists.
Flags flew at half mast after President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that people’s “justified anger” should not lead to “the victimisation of anyone, (as) this would only play into the hands of the terrorists”.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab militants on Thursday picked out then lined up and shot non-Muslim students during the massacre described by Kenyatta as a “barbaric medieval slaughter”.
The massacre was Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi. A total of of 213 people were killed in that embassy attack, 44 of whom were American embassy staff.
Top Muslim leader Hassan Ole Naado also offered his condolences.
“Kenya is at war, and we must all stand together,” Naado, deputy head of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims said, adding that the organisation was helping to raise money to cover the funeral expenses of those killed and the medical costs of the scores wounded.
Forensic investigators aided by foreign experts continued to scour the site where one survivor shocked security forces on Saturday—who had said all students were accounted for—by emerging unharmed from a wardrobe where she had hidden for over two days.
The remaining 600 student survivors from the now closed college have now left Garissa for good, boarding buses for the home towns around the country.
A $215,000 bounty has also been offered for alleged Shabaab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher said to be the mastermind behind the Garissa attack.
With photos too graphic to show emerging, and the soul-searching beginning, the Kenya media Sunday rounded on the government for what it portrayed as incompetent response to the attack:
THE ALLEGED SECURITY FAILS
• Critical intelligence warnings were missed, and special forces units TOOK SEVEN HOURS to reach the university, some 365 kilometres (225 miles) from the capital.
This after alarm bells rang at Kenya’s elite counter-terrorism Recce Company in Nairobi at 6:00 am.
It was just before 2:00 pm before the main Recce team reached.
•Kenya’s major Nation newspaper said that instead of ferrying security forces the FIRST PLANE FROM NAIROBI TO GARISSA CARRIED INTERIOR MINISTER JOSEPH NKAISSERY and POLICE CHIEF JOSEPH BOINET.
•Some journalists based in Nairobi who drove the 365 kilometres (225 miles) to Garissa after hearing the first reports of the attack arrived before the special forces, who came by air.
•The Standard newspaper’s editorial cartoon accused security forces of sleeping on the job, depicting a snake labelled “terror threat” waking a snoring security officer with a bite, as a dog barks, “too little, too late”.
•Though there had been warnings of possible attacks on colleges, and at least two universities in the country had taken the threat seriously enough to make extra security arrangements; plus the fact that a UK travel advisory referred to risks in Garissa county, Interior minister Nkaissery still said the attack was “one of those incidents which can surprise any country.”
•“It…beggars belief that many of the failures that were witnessed during the Westgate siege (in September 2013 and in which 67 people were killed by Shabaab attackers)—including the late deployment of specialised police—were repeated in Garissa,” the Nation wrote.
THE KENYA GOVERNMENT’S SIDE OF THE STORY
•Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed defended the official response, telling news agency AFP on Saturday that “fighting terrorism… is like being a goalkeeper. You have 100 saves, and nobody remembers them. They remember that one that went past you.”
•Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka told the Nation: “If you look at how we responded it was not bad at all, say, compared to Westgate.”
“It takes time to assess and make the decisions, escalating it from National Security Advisory Committee to the National Security Council and then to scramble the elite units, get them to the airport and fly them to Garissa which is a two hour flight. There were many moving parts.”
THE BLIND SPOTS, NEED FOR RE-EVALUATION
•The Kenya police has offered $215,000 for the capture of Mohamed Mohamud – also by the alias “Kuno”, as well as “Dulyadin” and “Gamadhere”— named as the mastermind of the Garissa college attack.
Mohamud is a Kenyan national and an ethnic Somali—like more than two million other Kenyans or some 6% of the population. This is beginning to raise questions about how much focus should be placed on Al-Shabaab planners and militants in Somalia, and how much on homegrown terrorism inside Kenya itself.
•Mohamud did not take part physically in the Garissa attack. He was was a teacher and then headmaster of a madrassa in Garissa, but later became radicalised and crossed the porous border into southern Somalia to join the Islamic Courts Union, a precursor to the Shabaab.
Later he was a commander in the southern Somali Ras Kamboni militia, under the warlord Ahmed Madobe, a former Islamist commander-turned-Kenyan ally.
AFP reported: “In the murky world of Somali armed groups, politics and clan loyalties, Madobe’s forces helped Kenyan forces seize the key port of Kismayo in 2012.
“While Mohamud is on the run, Madobe now leads southern Somalia’s Jubaland region.”
This raises concerns whether there might be elements inside Kenya’s Ras Kamboni ally in southern Somalia, who might be loyal to Mohamud, thus offering him important insights into Kenya’s plans and deployments.
•It has been reported that under pressure from African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM) on their home soil, the Shabaab have reached into Kenya to carry out attacks and find recruits among disaffected youth in the Muslim-majority coastal and northeast regions.
However, one of the Garissa attackers has now been identified as a Kenyan national.
Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka named the attacker as Abdirahim Abdullahi, saying he was “a university of Nairobi law graduate and described by a person who knows him well as a brilliant upcoming lawyer.”
The spokesman said Abdullahi’s father is a local official in Mandera County, and had “reported to the authorities that his son had gone missing and suspected the boy had gone to Somalia”.
He described Abdullahi as a high-flying A-grade student.
The case of wanted Mohamud, and now Abdullahi, challenges two elements of the narrative about terrorism in Kenya and East Africa more widely: that it is poorly educated and marginalised Muslims who have been drawn to extremist politics.
Both Mohamud and Abdullahi were not only educated, but quite smart – and middle class. All this calls for a re-evaluation of the nature of the terror problem.
• One of those arrested by Kenya police of suspicion of supporting the gunmen include a Tanzanian—found hiding in a ceiling with grenades—and a university security guard, a Kenyan ethnic Somali, according to the interior ministry.
Elsewhere in the region, 13 people are on trial in Uganda for the July 2010 suicide bombings in the capital Kampala, in which 80 people were killed. Those attacks too were staged by Shabaab in relation for Uganda’s role in AMISOM. There is no Somali among them; seven are Kenyans, five Ugandans, and one Tanzanian. All this has led a growing number of analysts asking; “how much of the terrorism in East Africa today has its source in Somalia?”
Indeed, it is significant that president Kenyatta also said it was clear terrorist masterminds were operating inside Kenya and not just Somalia.
“The planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities,” he said, warning that “radicalisation is happening openly” in Islamic schools by “rogue” preachers.
This will likely to embolden those who question whether the AMISOM mission is still relevant, and whether the project to help entrench a stable government in the Somalia capital Mogadishu that can govern in ways that undermines Shabaab, is working.